Stop Playing and Learn Your ABCs!

Stop Playing and Learn Your ABCsThere is so much emphasis these days on early academic education.  So many children start their academic career at the age of 3 and some even younger.  Is this so wrong?  After all, young minds are sponges and it will help them to get a jump start on academics, right?

Doris Bergen looked at this issue in her work titled The Role of Pretend Play in Children’s Cognitive Development.  She says:

The press for “academic readiness” through concentrated and direct teaching of alphabet, number, color, and other skills is now affecting the amount of time allocated for play in preschools. This trend has had a negative effect on social pretend play, which requires extended uninterrupted time periods to develop complexity…
there is a growing body of evidence supporting the many connections between cognitive competence and high-quality pretend play. If children lack opportunities to experience such play, their long-term capacities related to metacognition, problem solving, and social cognition, as well as to academic areas such as literacy, mathematics, and science, may be diminished.

Are playgroups or preschool the answer?   No, pretend play can be found anywhere.  It can start with a little one pretending to feed her teddy bear with a spoon.  It can be found with the little boy digging in the sandbox burying all his toy animals so his digger can come along and “find” them.  It can be found with a parent and child under a blanket in the living room pretending they are camping.
preschoolBut what about learning colors, numbers, and the alphabet?

It has been my experience that many kids can pick up these things in an educationally rich environment.  You can have magnetic alphabet letters or numbers on the fridge for your child to play with.  You can have educational computer games and toys accessible to your child.  Colors are picked up through conversations.  Talk about the colors of things.  For instance when your child asks for a ball you can say “Here is the orange ball.”  Over time he will learn many different colors without doing anything structured.  Read to your children often.  You don’t have to have structured time for learning in order for your child to learn.  Learning is best done through play in the preschool years.

So what is the best way to approach education in the young child?  How about getting some building blocks, art supplies, dress-up clothes, toy food and dishes, vehicles and trains, etc?

The best curriculum for a preschooler is getting down on the floor and playing with him, following his lead, and letting his imagination run wild.  Research shows that those tea parties with all dolls in attendance or the monster truck track all over the living room is more important for your child’s academic career than sitting down and learning the ABCs.  After all, play is the work of the child.


  1. Hello,
    I have kids who are much older now, but when they were young, we hardly did much else apart from reading to them(which was tons and their choice). But we never fretted about academics for them, and they still turned out great(very challenging to keep them happy even today at age 11 and 9); but seriously, that playful times has not affected them in anyway…I think learning through play is a wonderful gift for their developing minds..

    You have a great blog here, and I found you through homeschooling mensans:)

  2. I whole hearedly agree!! My preschool boy has picked up on so much by reading! He is read to often and has learned colors, letters, and numbers! Even bath time is learning time b/c we have foam letters that stick to the bath tub wall when they get wet and my boys love them! Even my 18 month old is recognizing colors, and he gets this from his favorite book we read over and over, same goes for animal sounds as well!

    P.S. Love your blog!

  3. I agree, very few parents would utter those words. But there are a large amount of parents who focus on academic development over play development during the preschool years. I am all for academics and I have been accused of doing too much more than one time. From what I have learned and read academic instruction is best suited to children who are Kindergarten age or older. Research shows that in the preschool years academics should take a back seat to play.

  4. Children do learn through play ! I have always started my children learning early, but I have never ever said, “stop playing and learn your alphabet.” I am sure there are some parents like that. But in my 22 years of homeschooling, I haven’t met one !

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